"Constitution" for culture

On 25th July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed the Culture Code of the Republic of Belarus
On 25th July, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko signed the Culture Code of the Republic of Belarus, passed by the House of Representatives and approved by the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus. Belarus is a pioneer in this matter: the Culture Code has been prepared for the first time and is unrivalled across the post-Soviet space.

What  is so peculiar about this document, who is interested in it, and what innovations does it bring?

The Culture Code has been prepared for the first time and is unrivalled in the post-Soviet space. Belarusian cultural relations are regulated by a considerable number of legal acts, which creates difficulties for their application. Each legal act is only valid for a certain period of time, though it has sustainable character, has been tried and tested in practice. Belarus has accumulated sufficient legislative experience to codify its cultural legislation, continuing the tradition of the Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (written in the Belarusian language) and that of codex thinking, which is typical for the Belarusian jurisprudential practice.

What documents form the basis of the Culture Code?

Consolidated laws unite about sixty normative legal acts of different legal force, including seven laws, four decrees of the President of Belarus, about twenty Government regulations and thirty normative legal acts of the Ministry of Culture. In particular, the Code relies on the norms of such Belarusian laws as ‘On Culture in the Republic of Belarus’, ‘On Library Science in the Republic of Belarus’, ‘On Arts and Crafts in the Republic of Belarus’, ‘On Creative Unions and Creative Workers’, ‘On Film Making in the Republic of Belarus’, ‘On Museums and the Museum Fund of the Republic of Belarus’, and ‘On Protection of Belarusian Historical and Cultural Legacy’. All existing rules have been revised, with foreign experience  being analyzed at the same time. As a result, the document includes pragmatic and useful rules.  

What is the structure of this ‘bible’ of culture?

The document has more than 200 pages, comprising general and special parts, and containing five sections (‘Principles of Legal Regulation in the Sphere of Culture’, ‘Subjects of Cultural Activities’, ‘Cultural Values’, ‘Cultural Activities’ and final provisions), in addition to 257 articles.

The legal regulation of the Code governs social relations that arise in the creation, protection, use, distribution and return of cultural property, as well as legal, economic, social and organisational foundations of state policy in the sphere of culture. The document formalises legal regulation in all areas, in particular, librarianship, creative teams and cinematography.

The Code does not introduce any radical changes; however, it contains innovations aiming to improve relations in the sphere of culture. The document systematically and comprehensively regulates our cultural relations.

How will the Culture Code affect artists? Developers have repeatedly noted that the Code is a living document, useful not only for people working in the field of culture, but for ordinary people. It represents a set of rights and obligations, for spectators and visitors to museums, as well as for readers. In total, more than 60 innovations are incorporated into the Culture Code.

A specific range are targeted by the Code:  cultural workers and creative professionals, art groups, artistic unions and cultural organisations, sponsors and art patrons, education institutions, scientific and other organisations and branches of legal entities. All who carry out cultural activities should benefit. The Code establishes the main directions of co-operation between Government authorities and commercial organisations/individual entrepreneurs, and specifies Government measures to implement such co-operation.

The document specifies sponsors and art patrons as particular subjects of cultural activity, and it touches on mechanisms of interaction with Belarusians abroad, i.e. measures aimed at their support in the field of culture. Procedures to confirm creative worker status have been simplified, able to be confirmed by the creative union of the corresponding profile, regardless of whether a creative worker is a member of the union or not.

There are also changes to the definition of the folk art sphere, allowing craftworks to include products made by organisations as well as individuals. The document contains a number of innovations relating to historical and cultural treasures, updating (and reducing) the list of criteria for gaining status as a historical and cultural treasure.

Procedures for archaeological research have been defined, noting that research, including archaeological digging, may be carried out by scientific institutions and museums, with permission from the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus. Permission can only be granted to people working under an employment agreement or with a civil contract with a research organisation or museum. The document forestalls the activity of those who destroy the cultural layer and deny museums the possibility to enrich their collections with archaeological artefacts, while hindering scientific investigations. The document spells out, for the first time, that accidentally discovered archaeological artefacts are publicly owned. In comparison with the current law on museums and museum funds, more serious requirements have been set out regarding the establishment of museums, although those for establishing nature reserves and open-air museums have been simplified.

Many innovations relate to the organisation of concert activity. The Code has adjusted the terms and conditions for the return of tickets for cultural and entertainment events. The period within which an organiser has the right to cancel an event has been defined, alongside conditions for returning tickets for various reasons — such as the line-up changing. A separate article of the Culture Code regulates discotheques.

When the Culture Code will come into force?

The Code will enter into force six months after its official publication. Earlier, representatives of the Ministry of Culture of Belarus voiced an assumption that a set of regulations on culture would be operational for the Year of Culture, i.e. 2016 or early 2017.

By Veniamin Mikheev
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